As we mentioned on Friday, the Portland-based squad that's been laboring for months to conceive the ultimate city bike unveiled their hard work. Check it out:
(Here are better pictures from Jonathan over at BikePortland, since he has a fancy camera and an actual interest in photography.)
Christened the "Solid", this fleet titanium beauty is Portland's entry in the 2014 Oregon Manifest, a competition among five cities to see who can produce the most groundbreaking urban bicycle. The Solid is an impressive concoction, made up of custom titanium pieces created by a 3D printer in The Dalles. It's got a toggle switch that electronically shifts its 11-gear hub, all-internal cables, and plenty of flash. There's a great-looking app that connects to the bike, allowing you to control its lights and set routes through the city. And when you're routing somewhere, the custom-made (and predictably not cushiony) titanium grips will vibrate: right grip when it's time to turn right, left grip for left.
Fancy. And prohibitively expensive. There's no real way to price the Solid, since it's one of a kind and sort of experimental, but the figure I heard bandied about by Dave Levy, founder of Ti Cycles and the man who built the bike, was roughly $25,000. The pedals alone cost more than your bike (assuming your bike cost less than $500, which is somehow what the pedals go for).
If this bike wins the most online votes (vote now), it'll be put into limited production by Fuji. Expect biggish changes to the concept if that happens. Fuji's not going to 3D print titanium.
I went through three distinct stages in looking over the Solid and the entries from the other cities in this year's competition: Seattle, San Francisco, New York and Chicago.
First, I was skeptical. The Solid felt more like an art piece than ultimate urban ride. I do just fine, with my modest steel Bianchi, navigating this city. How was the Solid going to enhance that experience, beyond the fleeting cachet of riding the most technologically insane bike in town?
Robb Hunter lead the team at local design firm Industry, which partnered with Levy and Ti Cycles to conceive the bike. He heard me grousing about practicality and explained that their prototype is "essentially maintenance free." There's a sturdy belt drive in the place of a greasy chain, and a sealed hub instead of fickle derailleurs. A generator in the front wheel means you don't have to worry about batteries running low. Titanium won't corrode in the rain.
"We threw everything at it," Hunter said. (See: $25,000). We talked about the bike's relative lack of storage capacity (there's a rear rack, that's it). "We wear backpacks here," Hunter told me. "Nothing's that far in Portland."
It's clear the team put a ton of thought into the bike, and it's a beautiful piece of work (if you can get over your blasted purism and embrace the atypical frame). The truth is, though, most bikes don't need very much maintenance as is. I'm not sure how far that argument goes without other helpful features.
Next stage: Pride. My reservations aside, I looked at large banners that showed the entries from other cities and figured, 'Portland's got this.' Seattle's prototype looks like a goddam exercise bike. Chicago's looks bizarre. Portland's bike is a titanium badass by comparison. Surely we'd do well in the voting, I assumed.
Then the videos for each team's entry dropped yesterday, and the third stage arrived: Deep doubts about the second stage's brash confidence. I was dismissive of Seattle's bike too soon, and New York and San Francisco's entries are inventive, attractive and more versatile than Portland's. Chicago's maybe my least favorite, but their marketing is great.
Civic pride still has me leaning toward a Portland vote, but there's a lot to like in each bike. All five videos are posted after the jump.